By Laura Maechtlen and Kristen Verrastro

During onboarding, it would not be unusual for an employer to ask a new hire to give written authorization for deductions from their final paycheck if the employee does not return employer provided uniforms, tools, or equipment.  It also would not be unusual for employers to ask employees to supply their own equipment and tools, or clothing as a uniform when reporting for work.

In California, however, written authorization executed during the onboarding process will not suffice for reimbursement deductions at the time of termination.  Additionally in California, employers cannot require employees to supply certain clothing, tools, and equipment without reimbursement.


When it comes to uniforms, federal law differs from California law:

Federal law:  Federal law may allow employers to pass the costs of providing or maintaining uniforms to employees, as long as the employee’s pay would not drop below minimum wage in doing so.

California law:  California law requires that employers pay for or reimburse nonexempt employees for all costs associated with uniforms, regardless of the employees’ compensation.

What is a “Uniform”?

  • In California, a “uniform” includes ordinary clothing articles when the apparel or accessories are of a distinctive design or color, or have an insignia affixed.  A uniform can include required footwear if the shoes/boots cannot normally be worn or used away from work.

Who pays for the uniform’s purchase and maintenance?

  • In California, if an employer requires an employee to wear a uniform, then the employer must provide and maintain the uniform without cost to the employee.
  • Any uniforms that require ironing, dry cleaning, special laundering, or sewing and repairs because of the nature of employment must be maintained by the employer and/or covered by a uniform maintenance credit that appropriately compensates the employee for time and costs incurred.
  • Any uniform requiring a fee for rental must be paid by the employer no matter the maintenance necessary.  (These rules regarding uniforms do not apply to protective wear that is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.)

Tools and Equipment

As with uniforms, if particular tools and equipment are necessary for employees to perform their jobs, the employer must provide and maintain those items.  There are, however, nuances to this general rule.  If the employee makes more than twice the minimum wage, the employee personally may be required to provide and maintain hand tools that are customary to the craft/trade of their expertise.  There are also exceptions for certain beauty salon and barber shop employees.  Moreover, these provisions do not apply to regularly indentured apprentices under the State Division of Apprenticeship Standards.  And, as with protective uniforms, protective equipment and tools’ safety devices that are regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board are not subject to these particular rules.

Uniforms, Tools, and Equipment at the Time of Hire

What can an employer do at the beginning of employment to avoid loss of employer-provided uniforms, tools, or equipment at the time of termination?

Other States:  In many states, an employee may give written authorization at the time of  hire to automatically deduct the cost of unreturned items from their last paycheck.

California:  In California, however, this type of written authorization during onboarding is not considered valid at the time of termination.  If an employee fails to return a uniform, tools, or equipment at the time of termination, California employers have two options to obtain reimbursement:

(1)        during onboarding, an employer may require a security deposit, in accordance with Sections 400-410 of the California Labor Code, that is not more than the cost to the employer for the items (and the employer must provide a receipt); or

(2)        at termination, an employer may request a contemporaneous written authorization for deduction of the cost of unreturned uniforms, tools, and equipment from the employee’s final paycheck.  A deduction, if approved, cannot violate minimum wage requirements.

Because of the potential exposure to liability if an employer improperly sets off a debt in an employee’s final paycheck, employers should consult legal counsel before taking any wage deductions from an employee’s final paycheck, and review any policy or practice regarding such deductions.

And . . . happy hiring!

Edited by Julie Yap